For many jaded users accustomed to the daily flow of Instagram Stories, swiping through friends' endless snaps is often a mindless task that offers little in the way of novelty. Between the weekly boozy brunches, routine club nights and the same videos of their cat, humor and surprise are usually in short supply.
But for some 27,000 followers, a guaranteed highlight of their day comes from an unlikely yet formidable source: @PetShopBoy's sometimes unhinged, always hilarious Stories that are equal parts ridiculous and soothing to the casual viewer.
The brainchild of Brandon Graeter, or "B" as he's known to friends, the New Yorker has made his Stories a must-see thanks to his sarcastic wit, priceless commentary and encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture references.
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I was first introduced to his account last fall via word-of-mouth from a friend, who promised me I wouldn't be disappointed. Immediately, I became transfixed with his highlights reel, which captured everything from full-on pool brawls on Fire Island (which he analyzes with detailed play-by-play and captions like "Drunk gay #2 said 'Bitch, you thought!' as he rises from the dead like a phoenix from the ashes") to the cringey Cheetos runway show at New York Fashion Week ("Me front row at Cheetos NYFW show when Saweetie starts rapping," he wrote alongside a GIF of Kamala Harris dancing goofily in her chair).
It was a glorious content mill of mess and seemingly random happenings that I couldn't get enough of. His commentary on events like the "Straight Pride" parade ("It's just going to have straight men present because they don't know how to make women come") and that White House fast food dinner ("Trump in 2020 when he's working the prison kitchen") are just a few that left me cackling. He puts what we're all really thinking (but maybe too shy to say) into easy, digestible snippets. Sometimes, he'll repost messages from other users who say how his Instagram Stories never fail to brighten up their day or how they always provide some comedic relief from life's challenges.
Part of his appeal lies in his use of Stories to craft hilarious memes and showcase his voice. Unlike most other humor accounts that typically post memes on their grid, his own grid features more standard selfies and snaps with friends and doesn't get updated as often. Plus, without the pressure of posting something to the feed, @PetShopBoy has a looseness and creative freedom that comes when you don't have to worry about images or videos being saved for posterity.
With a relatively new podcast about reality TV and pop culture ("The B List"), a growing follower base and tons of Real Housewife hangouts under his belt, @PetShopBoy is quickly making a name for himself while keeping us engaged and entertained.
He chatted with PAPER to discuss how it all got started, what he thought of that infamous fight at a gay circuit party in Mykonos, his love for The Real Housewives of Potomac, and what we can expect next.
Can you take me back to when you started @PetShopBoy? Has that always been your handle or was it your name and then you changed it?
So, people always called me B. I grew up doing spelling bees, so it was kind of a nickname. @PetShopBoy just came along because I needed an Instagram name, honestly. I thought of the first thing and @Pizzaboy was taken and I liked the Pet Shop Boys at the time. They're not my favorite band, but it had a catchy sound.
I thought about changing it, but it's synonymous with me now, so it stuck. I started the Instagram account really early on and I didn't really use it but then I came back to it. Remember that era when Rihanna was constantly posting and oversharing? That brought me to Instagram again and I started using it more and more.
I honestly think I gained most of my following when Stories were created and when I started using that feature. I don't post on my actual feed very much. I don't really post a lot of selfies. I'm more commentary, so I think the Stories feature is more my medium.
How did you decide to focus on creating commentary on your Stories? Was that something you saw someone else doing and got inspired by or something you just had an inclination to do?
Honestly, it's not something I started doing. I always did it. I was talking to Carey O'Donnell — he is a writer [Ed. note: And former PAPER editor!] who lives in LA who was on my podcast recently since we've been friends a long time. He was saying to me it's interesting to watch the Stories because it's always something I've done. Before these Stories existed, I was constantly sending these voices to people via text messages, but now I'm just using Instagram as a group chat. So, it's always been there, but now I have that as an outlet.
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When did you start to notice your account was taking off and people were responding and engaging with it?
It wasn't overnight, honestly. A lot of people that have followed me have been there since the beginning. It gradually grew, but I would definitely notice spikes during certain times. I love Halloween. It's kind of like gay Christmas, so whenever I would do a Halloween costume and dress up as a celebrity or something [my following grew].
One year I [dressed up as] Amber Rose and I remember posting that and so many people were @'ing her that she ended up reposting me. I would wake up the next morning with thousands of new followers for things like that. One year I was @Joannethescammer and I think he reposted me; I was Lisa Rinna this past year and I think she reposted me. It's things like that when I get a newer audience, but I think otherwise it's been pretty gradual.
There have been certain viral stories. I'm sure you're familiar with that insane pool brawl that was on Fire Island and I wasn't even there. A lot of those times I'm not actually there, but I have followers that now send me that stuff all summer long. I wake up to an inbox full of "Look at this fight video. Can we see your commentary?"
And these followers are called your "pets," right?
When did that start happening?
I don't specifically call them "the pets." I just want to be clear. I think once when it was a joke, but I don't typically call them "pets." I think they coined that term.
When did you start noticing people from all over sending you stuff?
Honestly, it was that Mykonos fight. Do you remember Mykonos?
How could I not.
That's when it really started, because I just thought this is insane, but it's what I prefer to talk about. It's niche gay culture and fight culture within gay culture that I think is really funny and also really sad. That's when I realized that kind of content took off. I don't specifically look for fight videos, but if I think it's going to be funny, then I'm definitely going to post it.
That Mykonos one, someone was actually there and texted me that video so I reposted it. Again this past summer, there was that pool fight. Then literally the next day on the Fourth of July, there was a fight on the boardwalk on Fire Island and I reposted that; there was a fight at the pizza parlor in P-Town. I noticed for some reason last summer [there were a lot of fights]. I think we were so pent up from the 2016 election still that everyone was getting too drunk and stressed out. I don't know.
Crazy times. Are there any notable names or famous figures who have responded to your work?
I think obviously the Housewives. I've been really lucky with the work that I do. I host a party or something like that — it's not monthly, I think I do it every three weeks or so — it's called "Guess Who, Bitch?" at the Moxy Hotel with my friend Jeff. Basically, we take the board game "Guess Who" and replace all the faces with the Housewives so it's like a game night cocktail hour. I always host it with a different Housewife depending on what show is still on. We've done it with Dorinda, Ramona, and people like that.
Have you gotten to work with any of the Potomac Housewives? I know you love them.
I haven't yet! I've met Gizelle. I really want to meet Karen, she's my number one. I'm not really fascinated by celebrities as much as I am by Bravo stars or reality stars. I think they're funnier than celebs. I wouldn't really care if Rihanna followed me, but if Karen Huger followed me it would be everything!
I know you launched The B List a few months ago. Can you tell me about how that came about and what it's been like for you since?
I love this story! Tracie Morrissey is the producer. She's written for The New York Times, Jezebel, Gawker, and so many different things. She also has a podcast called Pot Psychology. It's actually pretty popular. It was originally a vlog before vlogs were a thing. So, she was doing that and I never really knew her. I kind of recognized the name when she reached out to me in my DMs because she had followed me for a long time.
She wrote me one day and said, "Hey, long time listener; first time caller. I'd like to meet with you and talk about developing some ideas." I said, "Sure," and got coffee with her. It was summer, and we ended up sitting in the coffee shop for three hours talking. She was so cool—I had met with other people before like Viacom and Vice—but she was the only one where I felt like, "Oh, this girl gets me" and she came with a fully formed idea and got my sense of humor. I felt like, "Okay, we can do this" and we developed the podcast together even though obviously it's just me on the podcast and she's the producer. I book the guests; she books the guests. We work collaboratively.
How do you find these GIFs to go with your captions?
I equate it to a messy room. Either some people will be messy—I'm not a messy person, I'm quite tidy—but you know how you can walk into a room and think it's messy, but to that person it's not because they know exactly where everything is? So, I don't organize anything in my photo albums, it's just all there. I just save everything. I've always been a person who just saves a ton of stuff like that, so I can remember where something is based on time. Like, "Let's flip back to June. I know I was doing this." I have a photographic memory.
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Since we're all in lockdown, what TV shows are you loving right now?
I think The Real Housewives of New York is surprisingly [good] because I didn't have high hopes for this season. I really loved Bethenny, and the fact that she's not there anymore, I thought it would be hard. It ended up being really amazing so far. I don't know if you're watching it.
I am. I love it! It's so good. Those ladies are so wild.
The new season with Potomac is going to be postponed unfortunately until the summer because of programming, so that's disappointing. I don't watch a lot of new stuff; I like watching old stuff like movies or old shows. I've been talking to someone about Being Bobby Brown because that's been on my mind a lot and I'm trying to find it streaming somewhere. Apparently it's on Youtube, so I'm going to look that up today.
I think Being Bobby Brown is genius and I think the fact that it was on Bravo is so mind-blowing to me. I want to go back and watch some old Mob Wives. I've been thinking a lot about The Real World, like Real World: Miami or Hawaii. I think old MTV shows are amazing. What is it? Rock of Love. Stuff like that. I watched Unorthodox — that was a really good series for something more serious.
I'm curious to see how this Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion over Zoom is going to be.
I heard it was crazy. I think [Andy Cohen] said something about it was just tequila-fueled and everyone was drinking. I was told it was 12 hours long.
Illustration: Rick Tulka
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